I made a comment on my personal Facebook page a while back about the History Channel’s ‘Bible Series’. The comment addressed all the snarky speculation concerning Jesus being white and Satan being black – I noted that of course that’s the way it’s going to be, history is written by the winners after all, it’s one of the first tenets we learn as historians. A very ugly conversation ensued and atheists got blamed for racism, but it got me thinking……
Why is Christianity so vulnerable to a myriad of interpretations and presentations? Why are all religions vulnerable to radical changes depending on the particular view of a specific group of people? Even Islam and Hindu religions are divided amongst themselves as to the real interpretation of their saviors. Then I realized what the issue is: religions are subject to mass evisceration for the very reason that they are myths.
Let’s think for a minute about a couple of real live humans that have existed. You know, their deeds of good and ill are recorded in numerous references from historians of the day to newspaper articles to public records to eyewitness accounts. It’s difficult to get their legacies wrong. We don’t have much wiggle room to revise their accounts for the very reason that their accounts are stolidly recorded and fixed on the historical timeline.
Henry VIII – one of my favorite figures from early Britain and certainly one who changed the course of history – is ever viewed as one thing only: a womanizing king who was willing to break holy precedence and as a result managed to create a religious rift that Satan would be proud of. We can’t spend days and months speculating about his thoughts and actions and looks because too much evidence exists to only interpret his historical presence within a very narrow window.
I can hear some of you thinking “Henry VIII is pretty recent though,” and you are right. Let’s go back Before the Common Era then and pick out some other historical figure……say, Aristotle for instance. We have a pretty good idea how he looked based on paintings and sculpture so most portrayals we have of him are basically similar (unlike many depictions of Christ – who knew he was Aryan?). Aristotle’s work and deeds and influence are recorded by many so it becomes impossible to surmise what he meant except within very strict parameters, he wrested incessantly with other brilliant minds of the time after all and their arguments still haunt us. By contrast, whole denominations are built as a result of various suppositions as to what Jesus, or Paul, or the angel Gabriel really meant (by the way, denomination means division).
I could mention Alexander the Great, Marcus Aureoles, Genghis Khan, and Galileo, along with hundreds of other historical figures whose interpretation is limited because of the various forms of information we have about them. Not so for Jesus, whose divisive presence failed to capture the attention of historians of the time and whose lack of images allows us to re-write history so that a middle-eastern Jew looks more like an American lumberjack.
Of course there will be many versions of Christ, mythological figures are prone to various revisions and wild interpretation in a way that historical figures can never be.